MR. WHITMAN: Good morning, everybody. Good morning and welcome. Let me just make sure that we have good conductivity with Basra this morning, and see if General Salmon can hear me. This is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon.
GEN. SALMON: Yeah, I can hear you. Thank you very much.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, General, thank you for taking some time this afternoon -- this evening -- to be with us and to share your perspective and to take some questions.
This is Major General Andy Salmon, who is the general officer commanding Multinational Division Southeast. He's been in command there since August of 2008. I think you may recall he briefed us last October. And today he is speaking to us from Basra, and is going to give you a brief operational update and then take some of your questions.
So, General, again, thank you for being with us this afternoon, and let me turn it over to you.
GEN. SALMON: Well, good morning in Washington. Thank you very much. I hope the weather's okay with you. It's reasonable here.
I think it was three and a half months ago when I last spoke to you, and quite a lot has changed since then. I did think I left it with a few words, which were we've still got to adapt and consolidate security. We need to deliver more reconstruction and development, and we need to attract investment. We needed to capitalize inclusive politics and work towards elections. And I said that if all of this happened, then there would be a big difference in Basra.
Now, to a certain extent, there has been a big difference, and I think if you look at the situation we find ourselves in now in Basra, compared to where we were without Charge of the Knights, in the words of Ambassador Crocker, there has been a radical transformation.
A couple of days ago we saw the first all-inclusive elections, I think a big step in the right direction for the future of Basra and Iraq. One-point-four million people had registered to vote. We had about a 50 percent turnout, more in the city and less in the rural areas, overall.
But they were safe and secure, and it was really important to the Iraqi security forces. It was a litmus test for them. And the fact that they passed with very minor incidents was a testament to the way that they developed since Charge of the Knights over -- in the last six months.
I think what's really impressed me about their performance was their ability to plan, their attitude, the way they handled incidents and responded to them very sensibly, in a measured way, and the fact that they kept a reasonable level of tempo going throughout the last few weeks.
And overall, it continues with this great consolidation from the Iraqi security forces. They're more resilient. They've now got a security architecture we've helped build in place, and there's more joint cooperation between Iraqi army and police, and to a certain extent they're working in a much more harmonious fashion.
Now these security gains have been delivered in true partnership, and it's worth recalling that there is a new strategic concept, a new security arrangement and framework in place that we've (been ?) operating within since the first of Jan.
Now these developments have been enabled by our military transition teams, police transition teams, border transition teams that are coming into place now and starting to operate on the borders, and port of entry transition teams at places like Umm Qasr and the Shalamacha boarding -- crossing point.
I think the other thing that we've helped with is command and control over this security architecture.
We built a joint operations center with Iraqis. And that has proven to be extremely effective and was in full flow during the elections over the last week.
So we continue to consolidate. And now it's really a question of making sure that the police reform continues, that border security is enhanced through the assistance of border training teams and, of course, port of entry training teams. And notwithstanding of course that the training center down at Shaibah is still developing, and we're now seeing a much more greater level of interest in ownership of Iraqi security forces, in that establishment, which is obviously very important for their future.
Now, for Basralis then, you know, with this situation that I've just described, security has ceased to be an issue. They're worried about crime, jobs, the delivery of essential services, the sort of thing that anybody would be worried about in any city in the world frankly.
The people who have come down, you know, not just ourselves but people from abroad, who have stayed down in Basra, say that it's normal by Middle Eastern standards, albeit there are checkpoints, you know, with police and army around the place.
House prices have doubled. There are fuller markets. Smaller businesses are cropping up all over the place. And some of the work that we've done, for example, on the microloan side of life, has provided an extra 900 jobs. And restaurants are busy. And people are starting to really enjoy themselves.
Somebody said during -- (inaudible) -- festival, just after Christmas, where previously they had gone to Kuwait, everybody came over from, you know, Kuwait to them. And they really partied hard to the early hours.
So that's all very encouraging. The city is looking cleaner, partly enabled by the joint reconstruction action team work that's been going on, plus the work of the provincial reconstruction team, working alongside to build capacity, to enhance budget execution, to get the plans sorted out with the provincial authorities. And that has started to improve. But there's a long way to go there.
There has been economic progress too. Down at the border at Umm Qasr, there's more trade. And there's a real endeavor now to deal with corruption down there and to start sorting out security. And we're seeing much more rehabilitation of the port.
Salvage companies are working quite effectively there. And the place is starting to look really much smarter and very busy. Basrah International Airport too; we handed that over to Iraqi control on the first of Jan., in line with a new security and strategic framework. And now they're operating it by themselves, delivering four to six commercial flights per day.
Investors are starting to come in on the back of Shell, too. There's been 17 real expressions of interest in over 9 billion pounds' worth of investment projects across all sectors of industry and the economy. And companies like Smith-Glaxo-Kline and ArcelorMittal are starting to really want to come to Basra and invest.
Now, I've just really given you quite a rosy inventory, and that's all true, but one mustn't forget the challenges that lie ahead now. For the people, it's all about social and economic developments, more investments, effective governance, the implementation of good law and order and, of course, the growth of civil capacity.
Basra, we are certainly more optimistic, and those who I talk to -- not just in the army, but also the people on the ground -- share the same level of optimism. But they've also got higher expectations. The one thing that I've found in common with all of them, they are determined not to go back to the previous 30 years of darkness. They tasted freedom recently. They like it, and they want more of it. They want decent politicians who can deliver. They want more transparency. They want corruption dealt with. And these elections are really the start of all of that.
It's the start of a new chapter. And I would say that what we're seeing now is the politics of hope replacing the politics of fear. So it's a good picture.
I'm happy to take any questions.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you for the overview, and we do have a few questions here. And we'll start with you.
Q General, this is David Morgan from Reuters. As you know, Prime Minister Brown set out three goals that would have to be accomplished before British troops could withdraw from Iraq. One was to hand over control of the Basra airport to the Iraqis. Another was to hold provincial elections. And the third was to revitalize the economy. Have those goals now been met? And if so, how soon would you expect to see British forces begin to withdraw?
GEN. SALMON: Yeah, thank you very much. Indeed, Prime Minister Brown came to Basra just before Christmas to look at exactly what the conditions were on the ground before he made those announcements. The extra one that you don't have on your list, of course, was to make sure that 14 Div was at an appropriate level of capability to deal with the internal security situation. Well, I've mentioned 14 Division, I suppose, in passing, because of the way that they delivered safe and secure -- a safe and secure environment for these elections.
And in the main, you know, we've completely met, you know, the conditions and the tasks that the prime minister has set up.
When I say "in the main," the qualification, of course, is something that we can't deal with, which is the long-term building up of national defense forces and the enablers and the capability, which is not something that we're committed to doing, because that's not what was agreed. So that's being done.
Basra International Airport has been handed over and is operating successfully, you know, in line with the new security structures that are in place from the first of Jan. So that's good news too.
The elections have passed without incident so far, but of course over the next couple of months there's still a lot of sorting out of the new Provincial Council. There may be some security challenges there. We're not expecting any. The Iraqi security forces are up to the task of dealing with the sort of low-level violence that might accompany any politicking as the Provincial Council sits and then the choice of a new governor towards the end of March. But I think we've met that condition as well, to support that democratic process.
And in terms of seeing the economy flourish and grow, well, there's a long way there. What I think we can say is that we've helped to set the conditions for that. We established the Basra Investment Commission. We know that Michael Waring (ph), who's the prime minister's economic adviser with the commission, has established a few investor conferences.
And we're starting to see -- because, of course, security is much better, and when companies are coming to look to invest, they want to know what the risk analysis looks like. And we understand that organizations like Control Risks, who provide companies with that risk analysis, are now recommending that Basra's a much better place to invest in. So that's looking good. And only the other day, I spoke to some emerging-markets investors who specialize in post-conflict reconstruction. They're very serious about coming down here. So we are seeing a lot of interest.
So I think overall, we are very much on track to deliver the prime minister's conditions. And with that in mind, then we will see British troops start to transition. They will finish the mission by the 31st of May, and British troops will be out of Iraq by the 31st of July.
MR. WHITMAN: Joe?
Q Yes. General, this is Joe Thabet with Al Hurra. Talking about the good picture that you mentioned earlier, how do you assess the Iraqi force's readiness and capability in Iraq? And what do you think what the Iraqi forces need in the future to handle security task and security mission?
GEN. SALMON: I'm sorry, I just missed the first half of your question. Could you repeat that again, please?
Q I mean, talking about the good picture, the rosy picture that you mentioned earlier, how do you assess the Iraqi force's readiness and capabilities right now? And what do you think what the Iraqi forces need in the future to handle security mission and security task?
GEN. SALMON: Yeah, okay. I thank you very much for repeating that. It's a very good question.
I think in terms of the Iraqi security force's capability to manage internal security issues, I think that's really good. Of course, the Iraqi security force is a combination of the Iraqi army, various police forces -- for example, national police, emergency police and local police -- then a host of other agencies like the coastal border guard, riverine police and the department of border enforcement.
I think in terms of internal security, we've got the right pieces in place, so we've built this architecture that we've built this framework. There's still a long way to go on the police side. There's still a long way to go on the border forces, to make sure that they're professional and coherent and they can manage what have been very porous borders.
And what we've tried to do -- and I'm very pleased to say that because of the Joint Operations Center that's been established, you know, the command and control of all of these various agencies is now in place. So that's good.
The training establishment, which is obviously fundamental to a developed and professional army, is starting to look much better. And we're now seeing a much more -- greater effort and willingness to say that actually training is an important part of our development, so let's get down here. So I think that's pretty good.
I think where there's going to be a lot of work is over logistics and making sure that the chain of resource flow and logistics flow, materiel flow, is much more coherent and much more effective. And partly, this is to deal with budget execution, and also, you know, capacity.
So I think there's much more work required on the enablers, and I think that is part of MNSTC-I, you know, and the Iraqi ground force's command long-term development and aspirations.
So that's going to be required.
So in terms of an internal security picture, I think it's very good now, but there's still room for improvement on border forces and police forces. And in terms of the future development of the army, then the logistics enablers' training is all going to have to be attended to over the new few years.
Q To follow up, on the joint operations center, is this, the operations center -- it's going to be a long project between the British and the Iraqis, or it is temporary?
GEN. SALMON: Well, the joint operations center was really established along with another six joint operations centers across Iraq to manage some of the most difficult security areas. Now, at the moment, that's in the Basra ops center, and that will remain for the foreseeable future. But I think there will come a time when the city is demilitarized, and the army moves out into its barracks, and we've got to decide where some of those dispositions are going to be. Where -- in due course, when it internal security ceases to be of concern -- I mean, it's still -- it's -- obviously the security situation is very good, but you still need to make sure that you consolidate your gains, so internal security structures need to remain in place for a bit.
But once, you know, the situation, you know, is really very different, then we can all say that it's really different, then I'm sure that the Iraqi ground forces will want to look at the disposition of its joint ops centers. So for the foreseeable future, I see it continuing.
MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead.
Q Sir, I'm Gerry Gilmore with American Forces Press Service. What impressed you with the Iraqi security forces' presence during in the elections? I mean, you said it was -- the elections were relatively low violence, peaceful. And how did having Iraqi security forces perform most of the security or all the security -- how does that impact on the Iraqi people themselves as far as making them feel sovereign and empowered?
GEN. SALMON: Yeah. I think that we have to look at the development of the Iraqi security forces and the way that they've managed security in Basra over the last six months.
Our polls, our indicators of opinion, from the people, are that as security has improved and violence has significantly diminished, to extremely low levels that we haven't seen in Basra, since the beginning of the way, then the people have gained much more confidence in the ability of not just the army, which I think they've always been fairly confident in, but also for the police recently where actually at the beginning of, for example, Charge of the Knights, you know, the police were a little bit of a part of the problem. So you know, the people viewed them with a certain amount of distrust.
But I think following a purge, following some reform, the view of the police has definitely, you know, got better in the eyes of the people. So I think you've got to remember that by way of background in the weeks just before the elections themselves.
Now, during the elections themselves, they boosted their profile on the ground. Their behavior was impeccable to the people. There was only one incident where a policeman fired his rifle in the air to usher a queue of voters along into the election center. He was immediately sacked on the spot, by his commanding officer, and replaced. And that was the only incident that certainly came to our attention.
And so their behavior was impeccable. And I think that's been very impressive, the way that they really put the people at the heart of their security profile and their security plans and endeavors. And I think the other thing is that when there have been incidents of crime and intimidation, they've responded really well. So they've been quite proactive.
Their intelligence is much better. And I think another indicator of the fact that the people feel very confident in the Iraqi security forces is the number of tipoffs that we're getting.
Only the other week, after a tipoff, there was a hostage rescue mounted, a heliborne, a very good operation by the way, by the Iraqi security forces, to release two hostages that, you know, had been kidnapped for ransom.
And so all of these little events, you know, build up to quite a significant feeling of confidence, in the eyes and the minds of the people, as regards the Iraqi security forces. So it has been really good to see.
Q General, it's Ken Fireman from Bloomberg News.
You mentioned that there were 17 serious investment offers in the Basra area for, I think, you said a total of 9 billion pounds. Can you -- can you describe what these investment opportunities are with some specifics and also tell us if any of them have actually come to fruition and do you have a signed deal?
GEN. SALMON: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Well, I think the obvious one that springs to mind is Shell, where they've signed an agreement with the southern oil and gas company, a 51 percent/49 percent deal to start an investment proposal to cap all the flared gas. I think the stats are that by just capping the flared gas, you could provide the U.K. with 10 percent of its -- of its gas output. So it's a fairly significant thing and, of course, is environmentally a really good move, too.
Now, in terms of the other -- the other expressions of interest, we've had some more companies deal with some of the oil infrastructure down at -- on the al-Faw Peninsula, about 500 million worth of dollars of infrastructure investment there. We've had salvage companies up in Umm Qasr on a multimillion-pound salvage operation to clear all the wrecks; nearly complete now.
Now, the airport is ripe for investment. I don't want to, you know, talk commercial in confidence, but there are some big companies looking to invest there and they're talking to Iraqis now. So that just gives you a feel.
But it's the oil and gas sector, cement industry, steel, paper. But, of course, the challenges of rehabilitating some of these state- owned industries that are sort of pseudo-state-owned, oil subsidized, but looking to do much more private commercial deals, is huge.
And I'll just give you one example. A factory called Ibn Majid down in Basra, which has been in the welding and constructing steel products industry, you know, we've had a 6.9 injection of capital put in as a result of Task Force Brinkley's work. We're following that up with a bridge project which they're going to build over the Shatt al- Arab and they've got the contract for that. It will provide more jobs.
But there's a long way to go to rehabilitate some of these industries, so there's a lot of help required on the development- and capacity-building side by investors.
Q (Off mike) -- Glaxo and now Shell, can you give us other examples of specific companies that are -- that have expressed serious interest?
GEN. SALMON: Well, I -- you know, I'm not an economic expert, so I'm not going to rattle off those. So I think, you know, we'll have to find a copy of The Economist to do that.
MR. WHITMAN: Jeff, go ahead.
Q General, Jeff with Stars and Stripes. Can you talk about what kind of footprint the British will leave behind at the end of July that the Americans might have to fill?
GEN. SALMON: Yeah. Well, I think the first thing that I think is worth pointing out is that, actually, what we've done as a result of the new security environment, in the new framework agreement, both on the U.K. and the U.S. side, is hand over to Iraqi control and Iraqi sovereignty. So the Iraqis are very much in the lead.
I talked about the conditions that we have to meet to meet the prime minister's deliverables. So what we're going to do is to finish off those jobs -- in principle, the army ones -- and, you know, that's a done deal as far as internal security concerns.
The other things that have been happening -- you know, we've seen the introduction of police training teams, border training teams, and so on -- all those extra capabilities that have been coming in to provide this framework of, if you like, national security in terms of Iraqi sovereignty. You know, that's being done by U.S. forces and specialists and technicians, you know, to do things like biometric work down at the port of Umm Qasr, et cetera.
So actually, we're not going to have a vacuum when the British forces redeploy back to the U.K. We're also going to make sure that we attend to the naval training. So that will continue as a coalition force, led by the Brits at the moment. We've got U.S. Marines, Royal Marines, U.K. navy, U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard. So the continual development -- again, in terms of national defense, sovereign (issue ?) of the Iraqi navy, we'll be leaving a residual force to be able to complete that task. And that's a long-term thing.
So what I'm saying is that there's a very different mission (surfacing ?). We know, in terms of the new security agreement, that coalition troops have got to be out of the city, aside from mentors and trainers, by the summer. And that's exactly what's happening.
So there aren't going to be any vacuums. There will be some level of military presence to make sure that situational awareness is all right. But essentially it's a very different mission. It's more of a rule-of-law/civility/growing-civil-capacity type mission. So that's what's actually happening.
Q (Off mike) -- your answer, it sounds like -- that no U.S. troops will have to replace some of the British troops that are departing. Is that correct?
GEN. SALMON: That is correct. But at the same time, I know that the commander on the ground here will want to make sure he has some situational awareness. But he won't be replacing U.K. troops man for man.
So essentially there is no relief in place. This is a different mission that we've been building up, new security conditions. The Iraqis are in charge. Brits finish their job off and they redeploy, leaving no vacuums.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, we have just about reached the end of our time. And before we do, I wanted to give you, General, an opportunity for any final thoughts that you might have or perspective, given the length of time that you've been there, or something that we may have missed.
GEN. SALMON: Well, I think, last time, you asked me to outline what I thought needed to be done. I'm not sure whether I'll get another chance to speak to you. So I think as we look to the future now, we've just entered a new chapter.
It's the start of a very significant phase in the Iraqis' path from, you know, what has been, you know, a failed position, a failed- state position to probably where we have been just before the elections, you know, a fragile state, and on the cusp now of increasing the capacities, you know, obviously subject to some of the things that I've talked about happening towards, you know, a more stable state.
And I think what needs to happen is, there needs to be this compact between citizens of Iraq, civil society, politicians, civil servants to make sure that governance is reformed and actually delivers, to the needs of the people, something that we haven't seen in Iraq for some time.
We also need to make sure that we set the conditions for sensible economic investment and attract international investors who are going to help trade and commerce and also do their bit, in terms of being part of this compact. And I think the international community needs to be part of that too.
So looking at the United Nations, I mean, only the other week, I spoke to an EU rule of law mission that were interested in joining in on the law and order pillar down here.
So really trying to make sure that everybody is together, and I know that the people want that. And I think if that can happen, on the basis of what we've seen over the last week, in terms of these elections, and the radical transformation we've seen in Basra, since Charge of the Knights, then I think the future is very bright.
How long it's going to take, you know, your guess is as good as mine. I mean, I think, development is a long-term business. And I think the shape of the international engagement will change over time. But I think if it works then I think we'll see a democratic Iraq, you know, stand on its own two feet as a member of the international community. And I think that's a really great thing to be considering for the future.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you again, General. And don't count yourself out; we'd certainly like to have you back one more time before you leave, as you're wrapping up your mission, to give us your kind of final perspective. And we'll check in with your office in a couple months and see if that's available to do.
Again, thank you for your time and for your insight, as it is always helpful to us back here. Thank you.
GEN. SALMON: Yeah. Thank you very much, and look forward to it.
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